UCSB Arts Lectures - Gautier Capuçon, cello, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano. | Credit: Courtesy

Can it be that we have been blessed by visits from the two most exciting cello and piano duos touring today in less than a month? The answer is an emphatic “Yes.” Thanks to UCSB Arts & Lectures and the necessities of COVID-driven rescheduling, the brilliant recital by Isata and Sheku Kanneh-Mason on April 19 at UCSB’s Campbell Hall was still fresh in our minds when Gautier Capuçon and Jean-Yves Thibaudet took the same stage on May 4. While it’s hard to top the genetically encoded unity of the Kanneh-Masons, Capuçon and Thibaudet share an intriguing rapport based on years of performance practice. Their program emphasized the capacity for mystical blending they have developed by dwelling on works that lie at the heart of the repertoire for these two instruments.

They opened with the Fantasiestücke, Op. 73 of Robert Schumann, three delightful compositions that established the duo’s command of the Romantic idiom. The Brahms Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38 that followed was sublime. The pair sailed through the many daring shifts in tempo that characterize this unique work in three fast (Allegro non troppo, Allegretto quasi Menuetto, Allegro) movements. 

Following the interval, there was a taste of Debussy in neo-Baroque, but still spicy mode, and then a long, intoxicating draught of Shostakovich — his Sonata in D minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 40. The composer completed his only sonata for these instruments early in his career, yet it contains everything one could want from such a work. The duo returned for an encore, “The Swan” section from Camille Saint-Saëns’s The Carnival of the Animals, a fitting “swan song” for a night of unforgettable music.

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